by Jamie Jorgensen
Greenbelt Online invited Jamie, (co-founder of Greenbelt Biota) to list for readers the most common birds seen in Greenbelt, plus where and when they can be seen. To further aid beginning and intermediate birders he recommends these resources: the Merlin app for bird ID and Cornell’s eBird for creating lists of birds and exploring what other borders have seen). Getting out with other birders is probably the best way to learn birding, but that’s complicated right now by COVID.
In our Yards
Step outside your home and the birds you are mostly likely to see are probably already familiar: American Robin with its red breast, Mourning Dove with its soft coo, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal (look for bright red males and olive colored females), and Common Grackle.
In the WINTER months we have Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers with us, but evidence of them can be found year round. Look for lines of holes pecked into the trunks of trees. Largest and most stunning of the woodpeckers you’ll see in Greenbelt is the Pileated Woodpecker. Here’s a video by John Klinovsky of a Pileated Woodpecker feeding its young near Greenbelt Lake.
Throughout Greenbelt and surrounding woods and fields one can find crows. These come in two species, American Crow and Fish Crow. They are very hard to tell apart by sight. Instead, listen for the call. The Fish Crow is much more nasal sounding than the American Crow, which has a clear throaty “caw.” Seen in Greenbelt increasingly in recent years are Ravens. It is easy to confuse Crows and Ravens. Ravens are larger, but size is difficult to judge if they are not side-by-side. In overhead flight look at the tail. Crows have a fan-shaped tail, while Ravens have a wedge-shaped one. Also listen for the croaking call of the Raven.
Birds of Prey
Birds of prey that you might see in Greenbelt include the Coopers Hawk and Sharp-Shinned Hawk, which you might see darting between clumps of trees in your neighborhood. Soaring above, or perched in trees look for Red Shouldered Hawks and Red Tailed Hawks. A visit to the eagles’ nest on BARC (where Research Road crosses Beaver Dam Creek) during their nesting season (November through early summer) will give you a view of Bald Eagles, but you might also see them soaring high above any part of Greenbelt.
At the Lake
A visit to Greenbelt Lake, nearby Lake Artemesia, or various smaller ponds in the area will let you see a whole other cast of bird characters. Look for Great Blue Heron, Great Egret (with all white plumage), and the smaller Green Heron. Double Crested Cormorants, with their long snake-like necks, can also be seen on the water.
WINTER is a better time for duck viewing than summer. In the summer you are likely only to see Mallards and perhaps Wood Duck. In the winter look for Ring-Necked Duck (though you aren’t likely to see the inconspicuous ring around their neck), Hooded Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. There are many other duck species that may pay us a visit during the winter.
Birds to Listen For
Many birds are easier to find by ear, so it is worth learning some of their songs. Barred Owls can often be heard in or around Greenbelt with their “Who cooks for you?” call. (Listen here.) Carolina Wren are some of the calls I hear most around my home. (Listen here.) In winter listen for the sweet sad call of the White Throated Sparrow. (Listen here.)
There are many, many bird species common to Greenbelt that I haven’t mentioned. Spring and fall migrations bring an even greater diversity of bird life through the area.